Blogs > The Best of Don Seeley's Columns

Former Mercury sports editor Don Seeley passed away in June 2013 from a heart attack. For more than a decade Seeley wrote about local sports. Featured here are his columns that were previously printed in The Mercury.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Gem of a time for District 1

The New Year began with headlines about Alcatraz being named a federal prison, which didn’t take long to disappear from the front pages after the infamous John Dillinger broke out of another with a wooden pistol. By late January, with prohibition a thing of the not-so-distant past, the first liquor store opened in Pennsylvania.
In February, sports fans, especially those diehards up in New York, began volleying insults at one another when the Yankees convinced Babe Ruth to take a $15,000 pay cut and sign for $34,000, the crosstown Giants rewarded National League MVP Carl Hubbell with a raise, a whopping $18,000 contract, and the Brooklyn Dodgers hired a young man by the name of Casey Stengel as their new manager.
Then in early March, Babe Didrikson Zaharias – perhaps the greatest female athlete of all time – pitched an inning during an exhibition game between the A’s and Stengel’s Dodgers. She walked the first batter, hit the next, then promptly ended the calamity by getting the third batter to hit into a triple play.
The year was 1934.
And while Zaharias was turning heads down in Florida, a group of unsung athletes competing in the relatively unknown sport lined up in Temple University’s Conwell Hall for the inaugural District 1 Wrestling Championships.
So when they unroll the mats for today’s four – that’s right – four District 1-AAA and AA tournaments, it’ll mark the 75th Anniversary of the oldest sanctioned scholastic wrestling tournament in the state.
There were only an estimated 25 PIAA-member schools in all of Pennsylvania with wrestling programs, and seven of them – Cheltenham, Coatesville, Haverford, Jenkintown, Radnor, Upper Darby, and Upper Merion – were represented at District 1’s tournament, not only the first of its kind in Pennsylvania but also one of the oldest on record in the entire country.
Competition was held in nine weight classes – 85, 95, 105, 115, 125, 135, 145, 155, 165, and 185 pounds (which was an optional bracket for dual meets). There was no such thing as growth allowance, now known as weight allowance, either.
And the officiating?
Officials, dressed in white pants with a long-sleeve white shirt, bowtie and black shoes, conducted the bouts verbally (the use of whistles did not become part of the sport for almost 20 years), and he touched the competitors to signal a break in the action or to stop the wrestling. An official called a pin by slapping the wrestler executing the fall on his back. However, the wrestler being pinned could also concede the match himself by slapping his opponent on the back. If the match wasn’t decided by a pin, the official would decide the winner or call the bout a draw
Few disputed calls back then. Especially Cheltenham’s Wilbur “Dutch” Lehman, whose Panthers swept six of the nine individual titles behind Pat Serago (95), Jules Bell (105), Hugh Fisher (125), Ed Drehmann (135), Tony DeMaria (155), and Carl Ruzicka (165). The lone three to survive Cheltenham’s knockout punch were Upper Merion teammates Howard Mowrer (115) and Jenard DeSimone (145), and Upper Darby’s Lloyd Black (185).
Bell, who would never lose a bout in his high school career – a mark matched by DeSimone – and Black finished the memorable weekend with the first of their three straight district championships. Black would go on to Temple and become a three-time NCAA qualifier (1939-41) at 175 pounds. In 1986, he was inducted into the Pennsylvania Wrestling Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame.
Lehman, who matched wits with such pioneers as Al Adam of Lower Merion, Bill Geyer of Upper Darby, Herbert Homer of Lansdowne, and Lloyd Moll of Upper Merion, would have to be considered one of the founding fathers of wrestling in District 1. He introduced the sport at Shamokin High School in the late 1920s, then established the sport at Cheltenham in 1933, where he stayed for 14 seasons and compiled a 96-4 overall record. Lehman was inducted into the Pennsylvania Wrestling Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame in 1979, and later into the Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum.
And overlooked at that inaugural District 1 showdown were a couple of youngsters – Frank Horpel and Frank Osinski.
Horpel, a freshman at Upper Darby that year, would wrestle for the Royals as well as for Penn State before serving with the Marines during World War II. After the war, he settled in California and started up the wrestling programs at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana and at the Orange Coast YMCA in Newport Beach. His contributions were at last recognized six years ago when he was inducted into the California Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum. Accepting the award for him was his son, Chris, who was an NCAA All-American and a member of the U.S. Olympic team’s Greco-Roman squad.
Osinski, a freshman at Upper Merion that year, would wrestle for the Vikings as well as for Temple, where he was a three-time NCAA qualifier (1939-41) and the first graduate of a District 1 school to earn All-American honors when he placed fourth at 155 pounds during the 1941 NCAA Championships at Lehigh University.
A lot of individuals – student-athletes, coaches, administrators, contributors and fans – have since changed the District 1 wrestlers landscape dramatically.
Weight classes have been added and subtracted, rules have been modified or changed entirely, and the tournament itself has undergone a number of alterations.
The District 1 showdown itself remained virtually unchanged for 40 years. But in 1974, the two-district alignment (North and South) as well the first Class AA (smaller schools) tournament was adopted. Last year, the AAA bracket went to a three-district alignment (North, Central and South). And this year, District 12 – the Philadelphia Public League – has joined the South lineup.
So for the District 1 Wrestling Tournament, happy anniversary.
You have been a genuine gem.
* * *
The area’s first District 1 champion was Owen J. Roberts’ Sand Sweisford, who swept the gold medal at 103 pounds in 1966. … The area wouldn’t have another for two years, or until OJR teammates Keith Nyman (130) and Ted Madden (180) gave head coach Fred Follar two more champions in 1968.
Other area schools’ first District 1 champions were: Boyertown – Kevin Mitchell (119) in 1978; Methacton – Rick Moser (112) in 1975; Perkiomen Valley – Kevin Kehs (heavyweight) in 1974’s Class AA tournament; Phoenixville – Ernest Kelly (145) in 1973; Pottsgrove – Mike Meko (105) and Dave Matthews (126) in 1974’s Class AA tournament; Pottstown – Dan Staverosky (103) and Garry Billy (112) in 1969; Spring-Ford – George Landis (165) in 1970; St. Pius X - ; and Upper Perkiomen – Jeff Smith (98) in 1977’s Class AA tournament.
* * *
Four of the area’s current head coaches were also District 1 champions – Methacton’s Bill Moser (1977-78) at Methacton; Phoenixville’s John Tornetta (1981) at Phoenixville; St. Pius X’s John Martucci (1982) at Council Rock; and Upper Perkiomen’s Tom Hontz (1983 and 1985) at Quakertown.

80 YEARS AGO: The first NCAA Championships were held at Iowa State. … Oklahoma State had four individual gold medalists and swept the team title.
50 YEARS AGO: Michigan’s Max Pearson, a graduate of The Hill School, places second at 130 pounds during the NCAA Championships at Wyoming. The top-seeded Pearson, the 130-pound runner-up the year before, decisioned Colorado’s Garth Rogers; Oklahoma’s Stan Abel (who would win a national title in 1959); and Cornell’s Carmon Molino. However, in the final, he falls 7-5 to Iowa State’s Les Anderson. … Also competing that year at the NCAAs was 115-pound Art McCall, who would later take over the Upper Darby wrestling program.
Don Seeley is the sports editor
of The Mercury.

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